Science that Promotes Secularism
by Junelie Anthony Velonta
Science is a gateway to many amazing things. From the days of the ancient Greeks when science was irremovable from rhetoric to the modern world combatting the Corona Virus pandemic, science has helped and is continuing to help us understand the world. For the young and hopeful looking above at night, science tells them that the twinkling stars are like our own Sun, shining from a distance that the human mind cannot fathom. And for those in the latter years of their lives, science helps them alleviate the pains brought about by disease and aging. Science carried humanity to modern times, to the moon and back.
But science can also affect personal beliefs. For many, fascination and appreciation of the sciences became their gateway to secularism. It is an almost natural progression. After all, science benefitted humanity the greatest when world religions did not persecute and radical political ideologists did not exploit the scientists of the past. Thus, it is not hard to see why many teach an appreciation of the sciences with the ultimate goal of inculcating secularism to any who are open enough to listen.
Appreciation, however, doesn’t always come with understanding. Those who appreciate but do not fully understand may be swayed by deliberately misleading information. By inserting a few scientific truths, the rest of the information attached to the truth becomes “fact” by virtue of association. With appreciation, but without critical thinking, this becomes the case for many. It could be argued that the ultimate goal of teaching the appreciation of science is strictly secularism alone, and after that is achieved the individual is free to do what they want. Yes, they become secular. Then what?
While the pursuit of secularism isn’t an empty goal, it shouldn’t be the ultimate end. It should also be recognized that while teaching an appreciation of science could lead to secularism, the actions of the educated individual should also measure up not just to secular standards, but also by other standards necessary for a modern secular society. This does not mean that people should stop using science to introduce secularism. Rather, the approach must be revised. Instead of teaching people to APPRECIATE science, they should instead be taught how to DO science. A difference in verbs could change the end result significantly.
It is in this approach that the Philippine Science High School System (PSHSS) succeeds significantly. From the very first year of education, an emphasis on critical thinking is drilled into the students. Virtues needed for a competent scientist are inculcated into the students, together with an education that emphasizes the pursuit of justice, compassion, prudence, integrity, and humility. Such pursuits are labeled by the PSHS Scholar’s Pledge as Humanist Values. In line with the said humanist values, the science that the scholars of the PSHSS do are focused on aiding and empowering the Filipino people. Common among the regional campuses of the PSHSS are programs that educate or aid Filipinos in various sectors, from students to the working class. Just recently, the PSHSS launched the PisAYUDA campaign, a combined faculty, staff, and student effort. PisAYUDA aims to extend scientific help to various sectors of Philippine society, with an emphasis on helping medical frontline workers. Indeed, the end result of such education shows promise.
However, such education is both pricey and time-consuming. Graduates of the PSHSS do indeed have victories in their fields, but their values and victories cannot be directly taught to the common people. Six years isn’t short enough time for earning adults. The education does show results, but it is not ready for mass implementation.
There is a more efficient way to do this, however. Dr. Romulo Davide, dubbed as the Father of Plant Nematology in the Philippines, continues to successfully lead a program that turns corn farmers into scientists and businessfolk. FSTP, the initials for the Farmer-Scientist Training Program, aims to equip farmers with scientific knowledge and skills that enable them not only to reinforce their crop yield but also to earn through businesses derived from their harvest. Prospective farmer-scientists are trained by FSTP personnel in scientific techniques to farming, emphasizing being critical not only of the products that they use but also of the results of their hard work. This results in easily replicable and favorable yields. As the farmer-scientists gain both knowledge and experience, the FSTP program encourages them to teach what they have learned to their communities, helping advance the farming community. Many success stories have been sourced from the FSTP—a testament to its viability and potential.
Common between the approaches of the PSHSS and the FSTP is their approach to teaching science. Not only are their approaches focused on critical thinking, but it is intertwined with values that help build and empower the communities. These values, central to both secularism and humanism, are taught even before those being subjected to the training become secular. By giving them these values, they are given the tools available for secular thought. The need to “convert” them is almost eliminated, as people liberate themselves through the tools they are equipped with. In comparison, while the results of teaching the appreciation of science do put forth secularism before everything else, teaching how to do science equips the trainees with the tools not necessarily available with appreciation alone. Such results could easily be replicated in almost any field, as long as the core goals remain the same. After all, as the old Sineskwela song goes:
“Tayo’y likas na scientist.”